Valentine's Day is approaching so I thought it appropriate to tell the story I often do in therapy to help describe a basic difference between the genders. It's actually not simply a difference. More like a lack of understanding.
It's a story about me and my husband ordering breakfast at Waffle House. Sounds simple. But when I ask both the husbands and the wives who are working with me in marital therapy if their reactions would be the same as ours, there is an overwhelming and astounding "YES" from both genders.
Here's the story. My son Rob and I are leaving home in one car. Meeting my husband at Waffle House for breakfast. He is a few minutes behind us.
Now we have been going to Waffle House since Rob was eating Cheerios from a Ziploc bag. He is now 20. We all eat the same thing every time. Ritualistic dining.
So that day, Rob and I get there first. We say "hi" to Mary, our favorite waitress, and she seats us. We chat and decide to order. I order for my husband as well, knowing of course that he will be there soon. Plus he is starving. As he is seated, I tell him what I have done.
"Well thanks, what did you get?".
"That's great". We go on. Then I start thinking, something we psychologists do a lot. "Just out of curiosity. If I had been the late one, would you have ordered for me?"
He replies flatly. With a bit of chagrin. "No, I wouldn't have."
The answer is the $10,000 response.
"Because I would have been afraid you would have been mad."
There's the huge difference. "Mad? No! I would have felt cared about and known and adored and remembered and cherished."
A major light bulb went on.
If the woman stops and is objective, what the guy has revealed is that he is afraid of disappointing us. Feeling that he has failed us. That's what he didn't want in the first place.
Drs. Patricia Love and Steve Stosny have written about how to work out these dynamics in their wonderful book on marriage, "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It". This book is based on fantastic research and includes practical and tangible guidelines. As I understand what men have told me, it is difficult for men to risk disappointing women, because as a gender they are so invested in pleasing them. So invested in fact that not doing so feels like a tremendous failure. Men basically need affirmation. So they withdraw or get angry if they get the message that they have not been pleasing.
Women on the other hand want to be understood. To know that our guy has us figured out. Knows what makes us tick. When we don't get that understanding, what do we do? The list varies from subtle to dramatic, from passive-aggressive to being demanding.
It can be a horrendous cycle of anger and sadness on the woman's part, leading to withdrawal or anger in men. Leading to more loneliness for the woman. And on it goes.
So what does this have to do with Valentine's Day? Maybe the guys who really "know" their girls are out there picking out the perfect remembrance. Maybe the girls are planning an incredibly affirming experience for their man. However, there may be potential for these reactions to wield their ugly influence. Unless you know about it. Figure it out.
I got a blouse for my 20th wedding anniversary. It was a nice blouse. My spouse received tickets to two days of practice rounds at the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Two tickets so that he and his son could have a once-in-a-lifetime experience together. (Now I am rubbing it in.)
I didn't get mad, really I didn't. I didn't get mad because I finally understood the whole risking thing for a guy. It wasn't about me or us at all.
I remembered my Waffle House story.
And actually, the blouse has grown on me.
You can read more of Dr. Margaret at http://drmargaretrutherford.com . You can also receive a free copy of her new eBook, "Second Commandments Of Good Therapy", a basic guide to how you know if your therapy is working and/or how to choose a potential therapist.